A Liberian Life

Memoir of an Academic and Former Minister of State for Presidential Affairs


An account of the author’s triple careers in academia, and services to two distinct governments of Liberia – William R. Tolbert’s and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s (consultant). Situated between the crisis years of the True Whig Party (TWP) regime, and the hopeful years of the first post-civil war government, stands more than three decades of teaching, research and public intellectual engagement. More than an impressionistic account, the author employs a rich repertoire of unpublished documents that include his personal cabinet notes and a wide range of government papers. His personal research papers acquired from archival research and interviews over the years supplement these. It is this rich background material that enables the telling of a fascinating story of the tensions within the TWP regime on the eve of the bloody 1980 coup, and in the process, paints enlightening portraits of such key players as Tolbert and his finance minister, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, among a host of others. Included as well are some specifics of the 1979 “rice riots” and its impact on the politics of change. Discoveries are also unearthed about the author’s role in racially integrating and internationalizing an American Episcopal/Anglican University in rural Tennessee. Among the questions explained are: Who was President Tolbert? What sort of finance minister to Tolbert was Ellen Johnson Sirleaf? Who was C. Cecil Dennis? Who was Jackson Fiah Doe? Who was Bacchus Matthews? How did the forces for change interact with those of the status quo in the 1970s? What were some of the forces at play in the reform attempts in the early 2000s? All things considered, what are Liberia’s prospects going forward?

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D. Elwood Dunn, Ph.D (1972), American University, is the Alfred Walter Negley Professor of Politics Emeritus, Sewanee, University of the South (a University of the Episcopal Church in Tennessee). Dunn published widely on Liberia during his 31 years at Sewanee, including Liberia And The United States During The Cold War, Limits of Reciprocity. Before Sewanee, he served in the government of his native Liberia, becoming the last Minister of State for Presidential Affairs during the First Republic.
[...] 'The memoir is wrapped in the author’s belief, clearly deeply held, that Liberians must emphasize commonality, and stop focusing on the dichotomies of the nation, even as we recognize our differences. Dr. Dunn views commonalty and communality as central to writing true Liberian history and nation-building' [...].

'As you read Dunn’s inspiring memoir, the ever hopeful and optimistic theme (even in the face of disappointments and failures regarding Liberia) affects you and leaves an especial meaningful impression. This is definitively his country’s story integrated into his story'.

Mohamedu F. Jones, Esq, in The Liberian Observer, published 04/25/2022

[...}A Liberian Life[...] is recent history in the form of autobiography. It is his story from birth through its publication, and his country's story from the mid-1070s through the years of the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf presidency. It contains thoughtful analyses, evidence-supported findings, and presents his views of the long list of unfinished and unresolved Liberian subjects that are necessary to transform the country and create a sustained nation'

Mohamedu F. Jones, Esq, in Liberian Studies Journal, vol. 46.1-2, pp. 148



2Early Years My Ancestors

3Early Education

4Post-secondary Education Formation

5Career Initiation One Year at Department of State/1965

6Student in France

7From Lyon to Washington, D.C.

8Graduate Student in USA American University

9Seton Hall, 1970–1974 Academic Career Launched

10Marriage in 1971

11Government Service Foreign Ministry, 1974–1977

12Government Service Executive Mansion, 1977–1980
 1 The April 14 Crisis

 2 The Brownell Commission

 3 Cabinet and the Report

 4 Appointment Minister of State for Presidential Affairs

 5 Some Policy Issues and Me

 6 Sole Report as Chairman of the Cabinet

 7 Envoy to Zimbabwe

13Return Home, April 22, 1980

14Uncertainty & Consultancy at Foreign Ministry

15Stint at University of Liberia (June – Dec. 1980)

16Transition back to USA

17Back in the USA – Seeking Permanent Residency

18Sewanee Materialized Summer 1981

19Highlights of My Sewanee Career

20Return to Academia

21My Scholarship

22Liberia Engagement, 1981–2012 (and beyond)

23Summary of Academic Career

24Focus on Rebuilding Post Civil War Liberia
 1 Looking toward Liberia’s Post-Conflict Future

 2 Rescuing and Preserving Priceless Liberian Records

 3 Investigating Corruption

 4 Delivering the National Oration in 2012

 5 The Constitution Review Committee

 6 National Symbols Review

 7 Liberia National History Project

 8 Governance Reform and Vision 2030

25The Center for Policy Studies

26Reflections on the Consultancy

27Final Reflections/Epilogue

Appendix 1Chronology of Key Events

Appendix 2Defining the National Purpose of Liberia, a National Oration by D. Elwood Dunn on the 132nd Independence Anniversary of Liberia, July 26, 1979

Appendix 3The University of the South Resolution of Appreciation

Appendix 4Renewing Our National Promise an Address Delivered by D. Elwood Dunn on the Occasion of the One Hundred and Sixty-fifth Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence of the Republic of Liberia, Centennail Memorial Pavilion, Monrovia, Republic of Liberia July 26, 2012

Appendix 5Reflections on Research Challenges as the Liberian Studies Association Turns Fifty

Appendix 6Partial List of Articles and Other Publications



Audience could include the Liberian studies community, African studies community, individuals and institutions in Liberia and abroad interested in Liberian history, diplomacy, politics and culture, Sewanee and Episcopal/Anglican Church communities, and Liberians and other Africans in the Diaspora. The book highlights how a Liberian academic’s career illuminates Liberian studies, as it provides rare insights into the last years of the First Republic, and into the reform agenda of the Johnson Sirleaf administration.
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